§ 2. Sir Thomas Arnold
To ask the Secretary of State for National Heritage what involvement his Department has had in discussions to increase private charitable funding to secure the future of the Royal Opera House.
§ The Secretary of State for National Heritage (Mr. Peter Brooke)
It is for the Royal Opera House to take the lead in seeking sponsors for its proposed redevelopment 480 scheme. I welcome the fact that it has already received pledges of significant private contributions to its appeal fund.
§ Sir Thomas Arnold
Does my right hon. Friend agree that that redevelopment scheme is essential to the future of the Royal Opera House, or does he endorse the more sceptical view expressed by the Arts Council? What specific response have the Government made to the magnificent pledges of Mrs. Vivien Duffield and Lord Sainsbury?
§ Mr. Brooke
As the local Member of Parliament, I could not but be aware of the physical circumstances of the Royal Opera House. They have been described as Dickensian; I would say that, backstage, they owed even more to Gustave Dore. The ROH is clearly right to propose a redevelopment scheme.
As for the view of the Arts Council, it has of course asked for reports, but it has also engaged in a continuing dialogue with the ROH. Mrs. Duffield and Lord Sainsbury, who have already been generous to the Tate and National galleries respectively, came to see the Prime Minister recently to describe developments in the scheme.
§ Mr. Fraser
I wish the appeal well, but does the Secretary of State agree that it is very difficult for people of moderate or poor means—as opposed to a person who is rich, corporate and probably a subscriber—to see world-famous singers at the Royal Opera House, because the numbers are limited to about 2,000? Following the example of President Mitterrand, has the right hon. Gentleman considered building a larger opera house, in which ordinary working-class people of moderate means, along with those who take advantage of corporate hospitality, could see world-famous singers?
§ Mr. Brooke
I thank the hon. Gentleman for wishing the appeal well. The Royal Opera House has made it clear that it wants access to be improved, and the scheme will afford that not only in terms of the number of seats available, but in terms of the number of performances that can be accommodated. While I do not wish the French President ill in any way, I think that the hon. Gentleman has been more generous to the new French opera house than other critics might be.